Election '97: Ashdown rallies Lib Dem troops

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The Independent Online
Paddy Ashdown last night urged his supporters to look beyond the poll ratings and convince the electorate that a vote for the Liberal Democrats was "no longer a wasted vote."

With the Party sticking stubbornly at the 10 to 13 per cent level with just 21 days to go, Mr Ashdown attempted to rouse his troops with a passionate statement of his personal beliefs.

He told an audience of activists at Southport that he had abandoned his career as a diplomat and had come home from Switzerland because the country was in a "mess" and he and his wife wanted to do something about it.

It took him seven years to win Yeovil for the Liberals - his party having languished in third place in the constituency. There was no reason why the success at The Oval should not be repeated nationally.

Since his return, Britain is no longer being held to ransom by unions, but the old public inefficiencies have been replaced by the new "private greed".

Like Attila the Hun the Conservatives had destroyed much and in its place had created little of long term substance.

The Lib-Dems wanted to create an "opportunity Britain where everybody has the chance to be a somebody." That commitment had been one of the central principles of Liberalism since the political movement was founded.

He wanted the Liberal Democrats to be recognised as the education party. "In the years ahead, the economic success of our country will stand or fall on the education of Britain's people.

"That's why education is so important. Why our party's No.1 priority is to make Britain the world's best-educated nation, the leading learning society, in the next century."

The cornerstone of the policy would be pounds 10bn worth of extra investment over the next five years, funded by an extra penny on income tax.

Yesterday's report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies showed there was a real choice facing both other parties. They could either keep their promises on tax or break those pledges by maintaining decent services. By accepting the government's expenditure plans they had bought in to the "Conservative con trick".

With 5,000 Lib-Dem councillors in the country it was no longer a party of protest, but the party of power. "No longer a wasted vote, but a vote for winners."